The New England Patriots‘ defense is not always prepared to shut down the tight end of the opposing offense. Last week’s performance against Jordan Cameron of the Cleveland Browns (nine catches, 121 yards, one touchdown) was just the latest example of poor play of when it comes to limiting pass catching threats at the position. When the Patriots travel to the Miami Dolphins this Sunday, Miami will also present a tight end that is emerging as one of Ryan Tannehill’s favorite targets in Charles Clay.
Clay, in his third season out of Tulsa, has really materialized of late. In his last four games, the former Golden Hurricane has caught 24 passes for 294 yards and three touchdowns, upping his season tallies to 60 catches on 678 receiving yards and six touchdowns (Clay has one rushing touchdown as well).
Miami’s second leading receiver has even proven that his bruising 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame is tough to take down. In Miami’s 34-28 win last Sunday over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Clay caught a pass wide from Tannehill and powered his way 12 yards through two Pittsburgh defenders to reach the end zone, giving Miami a lead that they would not relinquish.
Although the Patriots contained Clay in their first meeting in Week 8 for only five catches for 37 yards, the defense is not always consistent when it comes to handling tight ends in the passing game. Aqib Talib shut down the best tight end in the NFL, Jimmy Graham, for zero catches this year (although former Patriot Ben Watson did have three catches for 61 yards in the 30-27 Patriots win). However, Tony Gonzalez torched New England for 12 receptions, 149 yards, and two scores only a few weeks before.
Talib is as sizable a cornerback you are going to find in the NFL which helped in making Graham a non-factor, but typically it is the inside linebackers’ duty to make tight ends disappear when the quarterback drops back. Clay should have no problem avoiding the sloth-like personnel the Patriots may have out there in Don’t’a Hightower and Brandon Spikes. Look for more speed-friendly linebackers to get more reps on passing downs, such as Jamie Collins or Dane Fletcher.
It does not end there, though. If Clay can avoid the inside linebackers who most likely will cover him, the secondary has had issues tackling all season, and Clay is not planning on getting out of any defensive back’s way.